The exhibition Traces and Tracks is the culmination of a thirty year journey, photographer Paul Weinberg has undertaken with the San of southern Africa. His first visit was in 1984. He had previously studied the San at university and was aware of their special relationship with nature, survival skills and their hunter – gatherer existence. The San represent a range of intrinsic values for humankind, their encyclopaedic knowledge about the environment, their culture and cosmic value system resonate deeply in African and universal consciousness. His guide on his first trip was celebrated filmmaker John Marshall, whose family had been documenting the lives of the San since the 1950’s. Nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to see. Many of the San men in Eastern Bushmanland like other parts of Namibia and even Angola had been recruited into the South African army to fight against SWAPO who at the time were engaged with others, in a struggle for independence and liberation. In this first encounter he encountered signs of a culture under severe pressure, grappling to hold on to their land, way of life, culture and values. The conversion of a hunter -gatherer lifestyle into cash wages from the South African army, presented sad and traumatic scenes. People would in a day or two after being paid, blow their wages on alcohol and often inappropriate consumer goods.
The San, from the perspective of the protected environment of the academy and their reality, as he had observed, were drastically out of sync. It begged questions and answers and set him on this journey. For the next three decades he travelled to communities in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to document the lives of the modern San and share their stories. In 2013 and 2014, with the support of !Khwa ttu, he embarked on trips to communities that he previously encountered. In these journeys he reconnected with many people whom he had known before and acquainted himself with new voices in these landscapes. He recorded over 20 interviews in video which are part of this exhibition under the title, ‘San Voices’. He also ran workshops for young emergent San story tellers, whose insights and perspectives are also included in this exhibition.
While today there are an estimated 113 000 San who live in southern Africa, predominately in Namibia, Botswana and to a lesser extent in South Africa, their one time harmonic relationship with nature and the environment has been under serious threat ever since they interacted with other settlers. In the last seventy years or so, those exisiting one-time viable communities have struggled hard to hang on to their way of life, culture and land. As Weinberg notes, “My collective journeys that began in the last quarter of the 20th century and continued into the 21st, have been to understand and document the conundrum between these peace loving communities and the challenges they face in a modern and fast changing world. How they can hold onto and share their culture, heritage and skills with others who wish to dispossess them? How can their lifestyle be accommodated into various shifting ecologies?”
The exhibition of more than 100 photographs and 2 video installations will open on 31st October, at !Khwa ttu Gallery where it will be on show for six months before embarking on a national and international tour.
!Khwa ttu San Culture and Educational Centre is a West Coast Way member on the Culture Route
Issued by !Khwa ttu San Culture and Educational Centre on 16 October 2015